Garnett Being Thrown to Wolves

KG's Rookie Year

The education of Kevin Garnett continues, with gold stars, eraser marks and about 77 more pop quizzes between now and the end of the season. In his one and only course of post-secondary curriculum - NBA 101 - Garnett has had mostly good days, surprising fans, impressing rivals and reassuring the Timberwolves that they made a sound draft pick. Against the Houston Rockets last Saturday, however, he had a rough night.

The 19-year-old missed all but three of his 12 shots. He got whistled for traveling, picked up an offensive foul and got so rattled at one point that he took a wad of chewing gum out of his mouth and fired it against the front of the scorer's table. After the 119-97 loss, he was agitated, summing up both his and the team's performance: "It's over, period. What more can I say?"

It wasn't a setback, but it was a disappointment for a young man who has known precious few disappointments on basketball courts any time, anywhere. Other rookies - even those with four years of NCAA experience - might get shaken by it. Wolves coach Bill Blair noticed enough in Garnett's body language to seek him out this week and offer encouragement. "I told him, `Don't ever get down on yourself. Each night you're going to see something new,' " Blair said. "Look, this kid is playing outside for the first time in his life, so he's usually playing guys who are smaller but quicker than him. Every night it's something different."

When the Wolves play at home, season-ticket holders want to know if Garnett really is the team's future. When the Wolves play on the road, every crowd wants to see what the hubbub is about. "That's very difficult for a young player," said Blair, who hollers at Garnett as much as he hollers at any other player in the excitement of games. Fortunately for the Wolves, Garnett has been resilient. He gets upset on the court, but so far his emotions have stayed at the anger level, not lapsing into depression. Getting steamed is better than getting down.

"I want to be the best I can," Garnett said. "If I know I can do something and I'm not doing it, I get ticked off. I'm going to be hard on myself, period, but I'm not going to get down." Through the Wolves' first five games, the rookie is averaging 6.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 19.8 minutes. "The only way I'm going to work harder is to get on myself," he said. "The only way I'm going to get better is to get on myself. There's nothing anybody can tell me that I don't already know [about getting better]."

Garnett isn't alone in this process. Kevin McHale, head of basketball operations, and Wolves coaches naturally are going to protect their investment. That means lots of positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. The other players have a stake in it, too. "He wants to do so much so quick. He doesn't realize it takes time," forward Doug West said. "I try to tell him, `Look at me.' I've been here for seven years and I'm struggling."

Said Tom Gugliotta: "As a rookie, you want to win but you're more concerned with how you're doing. He's a mentally tough person. There's been a couple times where he's missed a shot and the next time, he passes it up. We'll say to him, `Shoot that.' " If Garnett ever feels the self-doubts creeping up, he always can look back at the oohs and aahs he has left in his wake. Even when he plays so-so, NBA folks factor in his learning curve and come away impressed.

"He's going to be an awesome player," Houston forward Robert Horry said. "He has such long arms and, by the end of the season, he will get much better." Said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich: "He's very active and has a great future. When he fills out and matures, he should be great. . . . He's going to miss what you learn in college. One thing about pro basketball is that you don't have a lot of time to do a lot of learning."

That will come on the job, one reason Garnett still was on the floor during garbage time against Houston. He made the most of it, hitting a three-pointer and slamming a massive dunk though the Wolves trailed by 30 points. "Right now, Kevin is on cloud nine," guard Micheal Williams said. "He's loving life and life is loving him. He should be proud of himself." Said West: "He's so young and so energetic. He's caught up in the limelight, and that's good. If you're not having fun, it makes everything that much harder."

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